Rankin Elementary will be ready to roar on the first day of school Aug. 29.
The paint was still drying Tuesday when the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce toured the new 58,032-square-foot, two-story building.
Beyond the main entrance vestibule, crews were still working on some final touches while business members filed into the commons.
Rankin was designed by L’Heureux Page Werner Architecture and engineers Morrison-Maierle, and constructed by Langlas & Associates.
“The amount of work to open an elementary is huge,” Kalispell Schools Superintendent Mark Flatau said, expressing his gratitude to the companies, school board of trustees, Rankin Principal Merisa Murray and the community for its investment.
To date, the new school has cost $13.6 million out of a $25.3 million bond issue approved by voters in October 2016. Construction of the school began in June 2017.
“Excitement” was the word of the day for Rankin staff members who wore purple shirts — one of the school colors.
“It’s been 30 years since a new elementary school was built [in Kalispell],” said office manager Sabra Jones, who transferred from Edgerton Elementary, which was built in 1987. “The whole building is excited. We can’t wait for the doors to open for the kids,” Jones said.
First-grade teacher Meg Jones (no relation) stopped by the school to finish setting up her classroom. Meg Jones said her classroom is going to be dinosaur themed, which is fitting as the school mascot is a raptor.
“I love dinosaurs,” Meg Jones said smiling. “Being the raptors is a bonus.”
One of the building features she can’t wait to get students into are the makerspaces located in each pod.
The makerspaces are blank slates equipped for students to dabble, experiment, code and create in the areas of science, technology, engineering, art and math known as the acronym “STEAM.”
“I enjoy techie things,” Meg Jones said, noting that last school year her classroom raised money to purchase robots. “It will be a great space to have of bit of fun with the robots.”
Each pod also features shared breakout areas — some have a layered drop-down ceiling creating an effect that led staff to nickname them “cloud rooms,” one of many nicknames for areas of the building, Murray said.
In her summer job working at a restaurant, Meg Jones said she has crossed paths with students brimming with anticipation for the first day of school.
“I know the kids are excited, and that gets me excited,” she said.
Murray echoed a similar sentiment.
“I’m also excited to meet a whole new community of families. Since I’m moving from Edgerton I hardly know any of the families or kids because it’s the opposite side of town,” Murray said.
Opening day for staff began months ago.
“I’ve had staff here all summer basically planning and preparing how we do school, you know, how we line up; how we go to lunch; how we come in from recess, and which way do we enter and exit the building,” Murray said, in addition to helping develop school-wide rules and expectations.
There building will be staffed with approximately 48 employees who will be responsible for educating 393 students at the last count.
“We had to add another section of kindergarten recently,” Murray said.
Rankin was built to accommodate about 450 students and relieve overcrowding in the district’s five other elementary schools.
As of now, 18 of 20 total classrooms will be occupied. If the remaining two classrooms aren’t needed they will be used for reading groups and other collaborative learning.
Flatau said it’s mind-boggling to be sitting in a brand-new elementary and thinking about the construction of future schools. The district has purchased a property by Whitefish Stage Road and Rose Crossing as a future elementary school site.
The property south of Rankin is slated as the future site of a second middle school.
“Kalispell Middle School is the largest middle school in the state of Montana, and once we go past that 1,100 mark, we’re feeling pinched there,” Flatau said.
During the building tours, kindergarten teacher Annie Cronk said she loved how color was infused throughout the building from the carpeting, furniture, walls, and even the exposed air ducts and piping on the ceiling to create a fun environment. Cronk said the natural lighting is also a great feature.
As a basketball player, the gym is another building highlight for Cronk. The gym features bleacher seating for up to 450 people and can be divided. One of the building’s security features is that the gym can be closed off from the rest of the building and be accessed by community groups using a programmed card.
“That card will open an exterior door leading to the gymnasium on Saturday from 2 o’clock until 4 o’clock. That’s the only time the card works,” Flatau said, using an example.
Building security was a priority. Exterior doors are controlled electronically and visitors will have to sign in electronically at the main entrance vestibule before the front door into the building is unlocked.
Stopping inside Cronk’s kindergarten classroom, a young girl took a seat in one of the chairs and began to rock. Student and some teacher seating, will allow them to wobble, rock and roll to expend energy. Desks are also designed to be configured beyond a traditional square or rectangle arrangement, which is a great feature for 21st-century collaboration, according to staff.
While the community celebrates the opening of Rankin, construction continues on renovating the district’s five existing elementary schools — Elrod, Edgerton, Hedges, Russell and Peterson — starting with the main offices. New gyms are also being constructed at Peterson, Elrod and Russell.
The public is invited to attend the “Rankin Raptor Reveal” and ribbon cutting ceremony from 5 to 6 p.m. Aug. 28.
Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or email@example.com.